Susan J Tweit Blog Feed

Staying Balanced in Chaotic Times

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These feel like chaotic times, with racism and greed living in the White House, and disasters filling the news, whether it's the mudslides devastating Montecito, California, or the erroneous nuclear-missile-incoming warning that terrified Hawaii. I'm not sure these times really are any more chaotic than any other time in history, but with the instant access to the news, and social media amplifying every crisis, small or large, and affording every idiot a soap-box and virtual microphone, it certainly seems that way. 

So how can we keep from going crazy? Retain our equilibrium personally and as a nation? How can we all keep calm and chive on, as the saying goes?

Everyone is different, so what works for me might not for you. Still, here are some ideas: 

Watch less news. Or at the very least, be choosy about what you watch. Look for news shows that are in-depth analyses and less likely to veer into sensationalism and hysteria. Don't watch the news right before going to bed--it's bad for your sleep, and sleep helps keep our bodies healthy and our minds in good shape.  
I read the news online (not on social media, on actual news sites like National Public Radio, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times). That way I avoid being deluged with drama, and can chose to focus on the news that interests me most. 

Limit social media time so that you don't get sucked in and depressed. Use a timer if necessary! 
I give myself half an hour in the morning, half an hour at midday, and half an hour in the evening (but again, not right before I go to bed). I spend time connecting to friends, family, and readers. And reading posts from people whose take on the world I find interesting. I ignore rants of any kind or flavor. 

Get moving regularly, and get outside. Every day. Preferably in a natural setting, the wilder the better. Research shows that time in nature, or Vitamin N, as author Rich Louv calls it, is calming emotionally and physiologically, and it helps us make better decisions, focus more easily, and increases our ability to be empathetic and forgiving (even to ourselves). 
I take a brisk half-hour or longer walk every day, no matter the weather. Because I come from a Calvinist activity-must-be-useful background, I do some of my errands along the way. 

Take a positive action every day. Write your members of Congress, do volunteer work, be kind to someone not from your tribe, speak up at a hearing, contribute to a good cause, support a candidate, smile at everyone you meet... Do something small or large that counters the climate of negativity and division in this country. Exercise your right to free speech, your expectations of civility and honesty and respect, your part in our democracy. 
I'm much better at quiet participation and spreading kindness than at actively speaking out. But these are times that require increased participation from all of us. So I have challenged myself to speak up regularly in letters to the editor, and in emails to members of congress and local leaders. I also support others who are more active than I am in whatever way I can. 

Feed your spirit daily. Whether you spend five minutes in morning prayers or half an hour meditating, whether you do yoga in a spiritual way, light candles, or simply gaze at a beautiful flower in mindful awe, practice some kind of daily ritual that gets you out of yourself and taps into the universal sense of awe, wonder, connectedness--the sacredness that gives this world and each of us that ineffable numinousness. 
I start each day with mindful yoga and prayer (even if I have to talk myself into taking the time!). Yoga to strengthen both body and spirit, and prayer (the intentional kind, not the pleading with God or gods kind), to send my love and goodwill out into the world. 

Find joy. Do something every day that brings you joy, whether quiet satisfaction or exuberant delight. Whatever it is, relish in the experience and make immersive. Don't short-change joy. Ever. 
I have a daily haiku practice that reminds me to look for beauty and wonder every day. I shoot a photo and write a haiku, and then post both on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to share my bit of gratitude for being alive. (To follow me on any of those platforms, go to the main page of this site, scroll down and click on one of the social media icons on the lower right-hand side of the page.) Today's example:

snow melts
shining bubbles float down sidewalk
then pop! into air

Keeping our balance personally and as a nation takes practice and sustained effort. It takes each of us working at it in a small or large way every day. We won't always succeed, but that's okay. We just keep working on it. Together. 

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New Year: Begin as you intend to continue

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"Begin as you intend to continue," my Scots grandmother, Christine Faquharson Tweit used to say. (She was a Highland Scot by birth--that's the Faquharson part, who married a Norwegian, hence the Tweit.) 

It's an old-fashioned piece of advice that seems almost self-evident, but it's easy to forget how powerful setting the tone and intentions at the beginning of any endeavor can be, whether a New Year, a new task, or a new path in life. Start on your best foot, and you'll give yourself the best chance for success.

So this morning when I woke an hour late after being out at a New Year's Eve party last night, I thought, I'll just be lazy, skip yoga, and go right to breakfast. 

Then I heard my grandmother's voice in my head, and I decided to start this first day of 2018 by remembering my intentions, which are:

To live with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand, as a way to further my mission: 

To heal and restore this Earth and the Life and lives who share our glorious blue planet. 

To nurture and celebrate diversity, that all may thrive.

And after a moment of internal grumbling, I unrolled my yoga mat and began my practice.

What does yoga have to do with those high-toned intentions? The yoga I practice is about physical and spiritual well-being, which are essential both to living with love, and having the strength and courage to work at mending and nurturing this battered world and we who share it. 

Yoga is my morning tune-up, my time to check in with my body, and stretch and strengthen muscle, ligament, bone, and being. It's also my time to stretch and strengthen my spirit through prayer, not the I-ask-the-surpreme-being-for-something kind. Prayers that invoke my connection to the earth and all that is sacred in this world, and my intentions for living with love and compassion, as I say at the end, "To everyone everywhere." By which I mean, all beings, and all forms of life. 

And wouldn't you know, when I finished, I remembered that yoga is worth the time and energy, even when, perhaps especially when I don't want to make the time and to put in the effort. It never fails: that half-hour of exercise and prayer always sets the tone of my day in a positive way. It helps me see the beauty around me, even when that's difficult.

(Beauty like the full moon, huge and butter-yellow, and peeking over Beacon Hill tonight in the photo at the top of the post. Or like the hoarfrost on the spruce needles out my bedroom window when it was minus two this morning.)

That exhortation to begin as I intend to continue is also why I dove into writing today, instead of spending this Monday holiday lazing around. All of my spare writing time for the past nine months has gone into a radical rewrite of my memoir, Bless the Birds, a story I thought finished last year, and which turned out to need a new perspective and its own new beginning. 

In starting over, I took a risk familiar to every writer beginning any project: your idea about how to proceed may seem great at the outset, but it may not pan out. Creative writing--any creative work--is at least partly a gamble that you can make your inner vision come real, and that it's a compelling vision that will speak to others. 

The gamble is that you won't necessarily know if your idea is working right away. You might spent hours, days, weeks, months, or even years on a project that simply doesn't ever cohere and sing. 

That's where I've been with this re-envisioning of Bless the Birds. I felt intuitively that the new narrative framework was worth a try, but I didn't know if it would carry the story all the way through to the end in a way that was compelling, relatable, and believable. 

These past few weeks, I've been writing in kind of a fever, pushed along by the work itself, as if it was racing toward that ending. On Saturday afternoon, I wrote the very last page, printed it out, and took the stack of 270 pages to my dining room. I set the manuscript on the table, fixed my lunch, and ate it with a stinking big grin on my face. I was and am proud of myself. 

I finished. And the story works. In fact, I think this new version of Bless the Birds is the best writing I have ever done. I am a bit stunned that I pulled these words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages out of me. 

I gave myself a day to bask in having completed a great draft. And then this morning, I dove back in and began revising. I read the first five chapters (45 pages) aloud as if narrating the audio version of the book. As I read, I listened to the story and I took out a bit here and there, added in other bits, adjusted words and sentences and paragraphs. Polishing the whole. 

At the end of those five chapters, at quarter to four this afternoon as the light was going gold toward sunset, I had the same grin on my face. I like this story. A lot. It sings, it howls, it flows, it laughs, it sobs, it savors. It's full of love and humor, silliness, pain, beauty, wisdom, and heartbreak. Life. 

I'm going to give myself this week to read all 77,000 words (27 chapters plus the Epilogue) out loud, revising as I go. Then, if I still feel good about the story, off it goes to my agent to see what she thinks. And I will get back to the deadlines I've been ignoring as I poured my heart and mind and all my writing skill into Bless the Birds. 

So as I sit here tonight, grinning like a lunatic at the stack of manuscript pages that will be my 13th book, I wish you all the most blessed of New Year's. May you begin this year as you intend to continue. 

May 2018 bring you joy and all sorts of unexpected gifts. And may you live with love, kindness, and courage, bringing your light to the darkness of this world, every day. 

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Lighting the Darkness (again)

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For many years, Richard and I celebrated Winter Solstice by inviting friends and family to help us "light the darkness" by filling and lighting dozens of luminarias to glow through the year's longest night. The little candles on a scoop of sand in a fragile paper bag lined our half-block of reclaimed industrial property, and their light shone until dawn. 

After lighting the luminarias (not easy in the cold and wind!), the crowd trooped inside to sample my Sinfully Delicious Eggnog, which I made by the gallon for the occasion (literally, using four dozen eggs, two pounds of confectioner's sugar, many cups of dark rum, and a dairy-cow's worth of cream), and other goodies. The sound of laughter and happy voices filled our house into the night as the luminarias glimmered outside. The warmth and love were palpable for days afterwards. 

Solstice and the Light the Darkness party were a highlight of the year for Richard, and when we had to move to Denver for his radiation treatments during the first year of his brain cancer, he was low about missing the celebration until I decided to throw the party via the internet. Our community of friends, family, and readers of my blog sent in images from around the world, and in Salida, a small crowd gathered to light luminarias and continue the tradition at our house. (Thank you all!)

We told ourselves that we would revive the Light the Darkness party the next Winter Solsice, but it was not to be. My mother was dying that winter, and we commuted back and forth to Denver so I could manage her hospice care and be with my folks through her end.

Luminarias ltght "Matriculation," Richard's sculpture in the Salida Steamplant Sculpture Garden. (It's the slanting stone atop two stones that open like a book on the far left side of the photo.)

The following Winter Solstice, we did light the darkness again, but Richard was only with us in spirit: Molly and I revived the tradition for Richard's Celebration of Life, a moving and racous remembrance in the ballroom of Salida's Steamplant Theatre and Conference Center. The luminarias, with messages to Richard written on the bags, circled his sculpture, "Matriculation," in the Strawn/Grether Sculpture Garden outside. 

I revived the Light the Darkness party the following Winter Solstice, partly because our friends and family loved the celebration and partly in Richard's memory. But the next year I had just moved into the little house, and it didn't have the space for the kind of big sprawling party that Richard had loved, and I didn't have the heart. I did light luminarias on Solstice, and I made a batch of eggnog and gifted it in jars. 

This year, my first Winter Solstice at home in Wyoming, I was determined to light the darkness again. Both for the symbolism of illuminating the year's longest night as a promise that warmth and life will return, as well as the act of spreading light and love to brighten a dark time in our country and the world.

I also wanted to avoid the divisiveness of today's discourse and celebrate the winter holidays by being inclusive. It's no coincidence that winter holidays in the Northern Hemisphere, including Channukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Yule revolve around light. They all fall around Winter Solstice, that "hinge-pin" where the year turns from the darkness of those long nights back toward longer and brighter days and the warmth of spring. Celebrating Solstice itself honors all of those traditions in a spiritual way without choosing just one.

So last Thursday, on a still and cold evening, a couple of dozen friends and I lit the darkness: That afternoon, I poured sand into paper bags, put a candle in each, and set out 50 luminarias. At dusk, friends arrived to help light them. Afterwards, we went inside and drank homemade eggnog and other festive beverages, nibbled on holiday goodies, and enjoyed each other's company. Just as with the parties in Richard's day, laughter and love filled my house, blessing it with the joy of the season. The luminarias glowed through the night, casting their light on darkness literal and metaphorical. 

That's my wish for each of you, our country, and for the world: that the light and love of this holiday season fills your hearts, and that you remember and nurture our shared humanity. That we all make the turn toward the warmth and life of spring, and resolve to share the best of who we are, to behave with kindness and compassion for everyone. No exceptions. 

Blessings to you all!

I saved some of the luminaria bags from Richard's Celebration of Life. This inscription and sketch is from painter Charles Frizzell

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Plant Companions: The Story of Scarlet, Violet, and Arabella

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I'm an unabashed plant geek, nerd, lover, whatever you want to call it. Plants are in many ways, more my "people" than humans.  

Despite my abiding affection for plants of all kinds, especially those native to the sagebrush sea of the intermountain West, I've never been much of a keeper of house plants. With one notable exception: Schlumbergera, the genus known in the horticultural trade as Christmas cactus, even though these plants are not cacti, and they bloom in May in their native range in Brazil, where they're called "Flor de Maio."

My relationship with these epiphytes native to the dry tropical forests along Brazil's southeastern coast goes back to 1985, when then-six-year-old Molly wanted to buy her daddy a plant to brighten up his office in Olympia, Washington. She and I visited a grocery store with a floral department where we both fell in love with Scarlet, a slip of a Schlumbergera with about three short stems and flowers as bright as the name Molly chose for her. 

Scarlet as a teenager, in full bloom

Scarlet lived happily on Richard's desk until we moved to Boulder a few years later, and there she preferred our sunny apartment living room. Where she was joined by Violet, who we found abandoned and squirrel-nibbled in the yard. (Schlumbergera are not outdoor plants in northern climates.)

Violet, named for the delicate color of the throat of her flowers

Scarlet and Violet moved with us from Boulder to Iowa to New Mexico to our eventual long-term home in Salida, Colorado. Scarlet thrived in Salida, and in fact, grew so large that we took to decorating her many branches with Christmas lights and ornaments as our holiday "tree." (Violet, always more delicate, never grew large, but she bloomed every year quite faithfully until Richard's brain cancer.)

When Richard began hospice care at home in September of 2011, Scarlet was living on a flagstone shelf in our bedroom, in view of his hospital bed. She began to bloom early that year, and he chuckled many times about the queer resemblance of her buds to parrot beaks, and smiled over the beauty of her scarlet flowers. (Violet didn't bloom that year at all.)

One of those parrot-beak-like flower buds

A few nights before Richard died in late November of 2011, I woke in the dark to the sound of a crash. I got up groggily and searched the house, but couldn't find the source of the noise.

In the morning, there was Scarlet on the concrete floor of our bedroom, her pot shattered and her stems broken. How she fell from her secure spot on the wide shelf six and a half feet above the floor, I do not know. But it surely felt like a leap of grief to me. She was always Richard's. 

I gave away cuttings from the undamaged stems to friends and family, and potted up a piece of Scarlet for me. She rooted and grew, but Scarlet never really recovered from the fall and Richard's death (nor did I, for that matter). Violet began to diminish that winter too. 

Fast-forward six years and my move home to Cody. I brought a few small cuttings from both Scarlet and Violet. They didn't look great, and I wasn't sure they'd make it. 

Late that winter, my Cody friend Jay's dad died, and Jay and his wife Connie asked if I would like the enormous Schlumbergera from his dad's house. After my experience with Scarlet and Violet, I was hesitant. But I finally agreed. Which is how Arabella, then just finishing her glorious long season of bloom, came to live in the corner of my dining room, between the two large sets of windows. 

Arabella basking in her light-filled corner spot.

Arabella, named for her abundance of hot-pink flowers that look like dancing girls caught in mid-twirl (those are her blossoms in the photo at the top of the post), settled right in. She thrived through the disruptions of electricians, plumbers, painters; and even through the shock of removal and replacement of the banks of windows on either side of her spot. And then around Halloween, I spotted the first of hundreds of buds appearing at the ends of her arching stems. 

When Arabella began to bloom in early December, I dug out a string of colored lights and some of my favorite Christmas ornaments, and carefully decorated her branches, happy to revive the Tweit-Cabe Christmas-cactus-as-Christmas-tree tradition. 

Arabella as a slightly psychedelic Christmas tree

When Connie and Jay came for dinner a few days later, Jay told me the story of Arabella's life. It seems that his mother was teaching at the Hardpan School, a one-room school that moved from ranch to ranch depending on the availability of space, up Southfork outside Cody in 1935. The school was at the Hardpan Ranch that year, and when his mom visited the McCulloughs, who owned the ranch, she admired the Christmas cactus in their log ranch house. 

Twenty-one years later in 1956, when Jay was in first grade in Meeteetse, 30 miles south of Cody, his teacher, Mrs. Smith, who with her husband had bought the Hardpan Ranch from the McCulloughs, brought her class slips from that very same Christmas cactus Jay's mom had admired. He gave one cutting to his mom (Jay and Connie still have that huge Schlumbergera plant) and one to his grandmother. 

The latter is Arabella, who now lives quite happily in the corner of my dining room. So my days are graced by the company of a plant special to my friends and two generations of their family, and with a heritage that goes back many decades in the place I call home.

There's an even deeper connection: Arabella and I, and this wonderful house I am bringing back to life, all share a birth-year. We all came to be (or root, in Arabella's case) in 1956, which makes us each 61 years old. I'm aiming for many more years together. 

Oh, and what of Scarlet and Violet? Over the summer, two of the slips I brought north rooted in their shared pot. One grew big enough to produce one flower just after Halloween: Violet. I think the other slip may be Scarlet...

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Restoring Hope With Yard Work

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When events in the larger world leave me feeling hopeless, frustrated, and angry, my antidote is to spend time outside or working on my ongoing house renovation project. It helps to do something positive and to remind myself that despite the discord and greed dominating American politics, there is still much good work happening in the world. 

Which is why I spent the weekend hauling and spreading 4.5 cubic yards of crushed gravel. The gift of gravel came courtesy of Jeff Durham, my contractor, who filled his dump trailer at the quarry, and left the trailer in my driveway late Friday afternoon. 

In case you can't envision what a cubic yard looks like, 4.5 cubic yards of crushed gravel filled the trailer in the photo above from from to back, and side to side. (I didn't think to shoot a photo until l had already hauled and spread about a third of that pyramidal pile.) 

Put another way, a cubic yard of crushed gravel weighs somewhere between 2,400 pounds (just over a ton) and almost a ton and a half. So it's no wonder that the tires of his double-axle dump trailer were riding a little low--it was laden with between 10,800 pounds (five tons) and 13,050 pounds (six and a half tons) of gravel! 

All that crushed rock was to complete a front-yard project that Jeff and I started last May when he rented a baby Bobcat (the heavy equipment, not the wildlife) so we could scrape turf from my lawn-bound front yard to create walking paths and a sitting patio. 

The baby Bobcat (aka walk-behind mini-bulldozer) after a long afternoon and evening of turf-scraping. 

After the turf-scraping, we got busy with other, more urgent renovation projects (installing a new electric service, building an en-suite bathroom in my master bedroom, re-doing the bedroom floor, blowing seventeen inches of insulation in the attic, beginning window replacement, and so on).

Which means that my dirt paths and patio stayed dirt through the summer and most of the fall. I did line them with bricks reclaimed from other projects around the house and yard. 

Last week brought a rare conjunction of good weather predicted for the weekend, dump trailer availability, and my time free of other tasks. So Jeff brought me gravel, and I spent two happy and completely exhausting days hauling and spreading it, shovel-full by shovel-full, wheelbarrow-load by wheelbarrow-load.

The first path partly graveled yesterday noon, a gorgeously sunny and warm late fall day. (Much too warm for December, in fact, but I was not complaining.)

I hauled and spread about 2/3 of the pile in the trailer yesterday. And then applied arnica ointment to my back and shoulders, and went to bed early, very pleased to finally be getting one of my long-delayed yard-renovation tasks completed. 

This morning when Jeff arrived to work on piecing the interior trim for my bank of three huge replacement windows in the living room, he was impressed at how much gravel I had moved. "Do you want me to haul some?" 

I shook my head as I shoveled gravel from the trailer to the wheelbarrow. "No thanks. Believe it or not, I enjoy this."

He shook his head with amusement and went back to work cutting trim. 

Getting to the end... 

By late this afternoon, as thick clouds rolled in and the air began to smell like snow, I had nearly emptied the trailer. Jeff hooked it to his truck, and with me guiding, backed it up and dumped the last half-cubic yard into the last area of bare dirt on the sitting patio by the front door. 

Then he headed off to work on his own living room, and I finished hauling and spreading. After which I admired the finished paths and sitting patio before stowing my wheelbarrow, scoop shovel, and rake in the garage, admiring my work once more, and then walking slowly inside to rest. 

The paths and sitting patio, graveled and ready for tonight's snowstorm. 

Outside, low clouds are scudding past, and I am sitting on the couch with my feet up in front of the fire, astonished that I moved that whole trailer-load of crushed gravel in the past two days. And in the doing, finished a front-yard project that has been nagging at me, and turned out just as well as I imagined it. 

My neighbors have already commented about how great the paths and patio look. They'll look even better next spring when the daffodils, pineleaf penstemon, blue sage, and others I've planted to replace the lawn grow and bloom. And the birds and butterflies and native bees discover them.

Thinking of that makes me smile, and restores my faith in the essential goodness of life. It only took hauling and spreading some 10,000 pounds of gravel to get there. It was well worth the aching muscles, believe me. 

Salvia pachyphylla, blue sage, a Great Basin native, and one of the plants that will brighten my front yard next year. 

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Six Years: Remembering Richard Cabe

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Richard Cabe (July 16, 1950 - November 27, 2011)

Tomorrow marks six years since the love of my life, my husband, partner, and companion in all things for nearly 29 years, and father of Molly Cabe, died of brain cancer. He was only 61 years old, and very much engaged in exploring his practice of abstract sculpture, the work that expressed his terraphlia, the word we coined for our species' innate love of this earth and all who share this planet with us. 

Richard proudly carrying the first basin he ever carved. (That's about 50 pounds of rock in his hands, and it is now the sink in the guest bathroom of the house he built for us.)

Losing Richard sucked. It always will. 

Yes, I've built myself a solo life that is fulfilling and makes me happy. Which proves that it is possible to live well with a hole in your heart. But it does not mean I don't miss him. Always. We walked hand in hand through our days from the night we first met when Molly was just three years old. 

Crazy in love from the start--our backyard wedding reception in Laramie, August, 1983

We weren't prefect--we argued and fought and wounded each other just like everyone else. But we always returned to holding hands, and in the end it was that enduring love for each other, that cell-deep connection, that mattered most. No matter what, we both loved AND liked each other. 

We were blessed to have the years we did, and to be able to nurture the rich love we shared with Molly. I know that. I also know we didn't have enough time together. But we had what we had.

Yet, I am thankful to be able to find happiness as Woman Alone. Life is nothing if not contradictory. 

Here, in Richard's memory, are some photos of the man I loved, Molly's dad, sculptor, brillilant economist, juggler, the guy with the beautiful smile who loved life. 

Mr. Raymond, his proud father, holding Richard at a year old, the first winter he lived in Salida, Colorado (1951-2).

With Molly and her grandparents, Mr. Raymond and Miss Alice, Arkansas, in about 1990. 

Building the interpretive sign kiosk he designed for Monarch Spur Park, Salida, November, 2008.

With another sink in the making, Salida, Colorado, 2006 

Carefully shaping the steel fire-bowl for a granite firepit, September 2008. 

The finished firepit, one of my favorite of his functional sculptures. 

With Molly on her birthday, February 2010 (after his first brain surgery, and radiation and chemo).
Juggling for his niece, Carolyn Myrick, and great-nephew, Oliver, June, 2010.

Celebrating his 60th birthday with family, July 2010. (Back row: Molly, my brother, Bill Tweit, me and Richard; middle row: great-nephew Connor Roland, niece Alice Tweit; front row/ my parents, Bob and Joan Tweit).

Relaxing on the deck during a working residency at Carpenter Ranch, northwestern Colorado, August 2010.

At Devil's Churn State Wayside, September, 2011, on The Big Trip, our belated honeymoon two months before Richard died. 

Cherishing a sunset at the end of our time together... 

May your spirit continue to soar, my love. My heart will always be with you. 

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Counting My Blessings

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It's been a challenging month on the national scene, and in my personal life too. I'll leave the analysis of the insanity that is our current political environment to those who are good at that, and likewise the rants. After being flat-out-sick for ten days and then straining my rib muscles working out at the gym, I don't have the energy for either. 

What is on my mind tonight is how to keep my spirits up in these difficult times. Not so I can be some kind of Pollyanna-everything-is-rosy person. Because if anything is clear in these times, it's that rosy is not the color of the day. No, I want to tend my own inner light in a way that it shines through the darkness of the world. So that as I walk through this life, I spread that light and its goodness.

Which is why even though I am still coughing from being sick, and wincing each time because coughing hurts those strained ribs, I am counting my blessings. I have blessings to count, something that's good to remember right now. 

In no particular order, the main blessings that come to mind are these:

MY HOUSE, which when I moved in during a blizzard this past January, was in such sad shape that I seriously questioned what I had gotten myself into. A good night's sleep in my cozy sleeping bag on the scarred floor of my bedroom mostly quelled that questioning, and I swear I felt the house sigh with relief the next morning as soon as I began hand-scraping the red-oak floors to restore them. Renovation has proceeded apace in the months since, from those floors to the mechanical systems to insulation to bathrooms (the joys of working fixtures cannot be overstated!) to carefully replacing the original windows with new efficient ones in the same mid-century modern style to... Well, we're still working.

The big bank of windows in the living room (that's 750 pounds of wood-framed, double-paned window unit there!) getting their exterior trim. 

But as I sit on my cozy couch in my beautifully painted living room tonight, with a fire in the gas fireplace in front of me, and the new windows solid and tight as a storm rushes past outside, I am simply grateful to have this house, this haven. Just to have a roof over my head (yeah, replacing the roof is on the list too). Better still, to live in beautifully crafted but long-neglected spaces that are coming bck to life day by day as we work to restore them. That's a blessing.

FRIENDS, those here in Cody who have called or texted with concern and offers of food and help while I was sick. Who laughed with me (carefully, because that hurts too) over my gym mishap. Who miss me when I don't make it to the eight o'clock service at church, who don't mind my off-key singing when I do, who gather Thursday evenings to just enjoy each other. Friends who welcomed me back warmly even though I have been gone for 35 years. I am blessed to belong to this warm community. 

And to the far-flung community of friends and colleagues in the larger world too, all of you who walk with me through this blog and in so many other ways. Thank you for your company, your thoughts, your ideas, your support. 

FAMILY, who I will be spending Thanksgiving with next week in Western Washington, including my 89-year-old dad, who is still "there" enoigh to spend half an hour on the phone with me this afternoon discoursing on what is wrong with the "tax reform" bills now in Congress. And the family who won't be there, including Molly in San Francisco, and my middle niece Sienna and her family in Germany. 

Part of my tribe visiting in August, on an excursion to the alpine country of the Beartooth Plateau. (Left to right: my youngest niece, Alice, holding Pepper; her mom, my sister-in-law Lucy, with Sarge; my brother, Bill; and Dad.) 

WRITING and RESTORATION, twin paths in pursuing my mission: To heal and restore this Earth, with love. To nurture and celebrate diversity, of Life and lives--that all may thrive. Without that work, the words and the heart-work of restoring the nature and beauty of this world, my inner light would surely flicker and go out. Neither pays well enough to earn what anyone sane would call a living, but both fuel my heart and soul. 

SAGEBRUSH COUNTRY, the wild landscapes that have been the home of my heart since I was a child. Walking home from the gym the other day, ribs sore,  muscles aching, I brushed past the branches of a big sagebrush leaning through the highway guardrail . And there was that fragrance, resiny, sweet, unforgettable. The instant I breathed in the familiar smell, I forgot that my ribs hurt, forgot the traffic rushing by, forgot the wind, icy on my cheeks. I smiled, breathed deeply, and walked on. HOME. I am home. 

Heart Mountain, my landmark, the heart of this part of sagebrush country. 

This isn't the path I imagined, this walking through the world as Woman Alone, without the love of my life by my side. But it's the path I have, and whenever the world feels hopeless or I feel sorry for myself, I remind myself that I have much to be thankful for. Oh, sure, I mope for a while first. That's part of the process. And then I count my blessings.

We all have them, no matter where we are, or what troubles dog our lives. Remembering our blessings reminds us that there is still good in the world. Even when the darkness feels absolute, there is always light somewhere. We have only to look, and let ourselves see. 

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Walk in Love

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Sunday night, after the latest mass shooting at a small Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I went to Evensong at Christ Episcopal, the church I attend.

I don't think of myself as a "churchy" person; in the tradition of Quakers, I live my spiritual beliefs in my everyday life. But there's no Quaker Meeting in Cody, and Christ Episcopal is nearby. It offers great music, plus inspiring and thoughtful sermons by the Rector, Rev. Mary Caucutt; also, I have good friends are among the eight-o-clockers, the attendees of the early service. All of which equals community for me.

Evensong is a sung worship service that grew out of the Catholic tradition of vespers, evening prayers. I first heard it in Cambridge, England, when for two college terms, I attended lectures, worked with the Conservation Corps, and once a week took in Evensong at Kings College Chapel with its soaring Gothic architecture and famed choir. 

The beauty of any kind of spiritual liturgy sung, chanted, and set to music transcends anything I can write. Perhaps that is due to music's power to move us beyond words, and into the realm of awe unfettered by our analyzing, critical left brains. (Listen to the voices of Kings College Choir sing Evensong here, to see what I mean.)

The news of the shooting in Texas came on the heels of another spate of deaths among my close friends, two expected but still leaving huge holes, another totally out of the blue--a friend with two kids in high school who died of sudden heart failure. My own heart was pretty sore when I walked across the church parking lot in the snow on Sunday evening and slipped inside to find a seat.

And then the music began, first just the organ, soaring notes that filled the church the way good music can, twining around each of us, as if drawing us closer and wrapping us in its warmth and richness. And then the choir, their voices adding to the ribbons of sound.

Then quiet, and all of us chanting a prayer, before the organ took over again, and the choir coming in, voices mixing and melding. Then silence, another chant, and the bell choir, ringing out a gorgeous round, each note holding and then fading, the whole a sonic tapestry. 

The service continued on, music alternating with chanting, and some spoken word. I felt my heart swell with the notes and crack open. I felt the music rush in to soothe the pain. At the end of the hour, it was just the organ again, swelling and then receding, the echoes hanging in the air with the most gossamer of shimmers. 

The choir at Westminster Abbey singing evensong. (Photo from the Westminster Abbey website.)

Sated and uplifted by that spiritual hour in the company of friends, I walked back home in the darkness and snow to my cozy house, feeling more at peace with the world. I grieve still, but my heart no longer feels like a bleeding wound. 

The words that stayed with me are these four, "And walk in love...." If you're a Bible-person, you may recognize the phrase from Ephesians 5:2, an epistle written to early Christians guiding them in living their faith. (I had to look it up, a Bible scholar I am not!)

What does it mean to "walk in love"? To me, it means:

  • Doing whatever we can to heal our own hurts, and then extending our compassion and kindness to the world. 
  • Speaking our own version of truth to power, not letting ourselves be cowed or silenced.
  • Standing up for fairness and justice, for the right to be safe in our daily lives.  
  • Spreading Light in the form of loving daily actions, not engaging in the darkness of hatred and fear. 
  • Nurturing and celebrating diversity of thought and lives; appreciating that when we walk with love, we will take many different paths.
  • Sheltering and tending the "least among us," who may not have all they need to live whole, healthy lives. 
  • Embracing all of life, finding the beauty in each day, and the humanity in each heart. 

In sum, for me, it means living with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. (I'm paraphrasing a line from a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter.)

I'm sure you can think of many more ways to walk in love through our days. There are many different ways to live a life with love, just as there are many different people in the world. That's a good thing; if we were all alike, the world would be a poorer place. If we decree that there was only one "right path," we block others from  walking their version of love. 

There is quiet but muscled power in walking in love through life, in speaking up for what we believe in. In tending to heart and spirit in order to use their strength for healing and action and restoration of this battered world.

Together, we can walk in love. We must. 

A flock of American White Pelicans migrating toward safe water in the snowstorm, each bird's huge wings drafting the one just behind it, and the leaders rotating to the quieter air behind the flock when they tire. It's the pelican version of walking in love, a community nurturing itself because each member matters. 

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Me Too: Why #metoo matters

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When I first saw "Me too" and the #metoo hashtag appearing on Facebook and Twitter, I had mixed feelings. I was sad to see how many women I know  have experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse in their lives. Too many of us, but then, even one would be too many. 

I was proud of us for being willing to speak out and speak up. And proud of so many men speaking up in support too. 

I wondered if it would do any good. Because it feels like we're going backwards as a society and culture.  

The more I saw though, the more I thought, this is right. We have to be willing to talk before anything will change. We have to admit what we have tried to ignore or suppress because we are ashamed or embarrassed or threatened or we think it's all in the past, so why bother... 

We have to bring sexual harassment and abuse into the open before it matters. And that's what both the hastag, and the original Me Too movement begun by Tarana Burke, are about. Empowerment.

For Burke, a strong and saavy African-American activist, who began the original Me Too movement in 2006 as a way to help survivors of sexual abuse from marginalized communities, "Me Too" is not just about speaking up and gaining empathy from others. It's about what comes next: the effort needed to heal, to bring opportunity to those who feel rejected, broken. That will take more than a hashtag. There is real work to be done. 

So yes, Me too. I've been sexually harassed many times in my life. I've been sexually abused too, by a man who believed he had the legal right, even when I said, "No." And fought. And said "No" again and again. He won, but he lost me. I left him. And more recently by another man who was a good friend of my late husband and tried to take advantage of the grieving widow he assured himself who needed his "comfort." 

The most enduring episodes, I've recently realized, came when I was a young field scientist working for the US Forest Service. The subtle harassment like making sure I knew I was just a token, hired only because I was a "girl" and the Forest Service had a quota of "girls" to fill so they would meet "diversity targets." (When a young middle-class white woman is hired to add "diversity," it's a pretty sad situation.)

Me as a Forest Service plant ecologist, out in the field, in about 1981. 

The less-than-subtle stuff like one of my colleagues letting me know during a long drive in a Forest Service pickup where it was just the two of us, he at the wheel, of course, on the way to a conference that he could show me "some good times." "And mentor you on your way up in the ranks." (He was married, with several kids, and I was still a seasonal employee, working toward a permanent job.) I rode back with a different colleague.

The time another colleague, also male, because all of my fieldwork colleagues were male then, took me aside for some career advice, which included "blending in more in terms of your looks" and "not socializing with 'the girls'," the highly trained Personnel and Purchasing officers for the Forest, plus the rest of the office staff. 

I did get my permanent job without the help of my married-with-children colleague, and I didn't quit socializing with "the girls." But I did blend in. I wore my waist length red hair up in a bun, or hid it under a ball-cap, as in the photo above. I wore baggy jeans and chamois shirts in winter, long-sleeved tee-shirts and baggy chinos in summer. I deliberately downplayed my femininity, which wasn't all that hard for skinny, freckled me.

And when I got divorced from my first husband, also a colleague, and the Forest Supervisor, a very nice man, but not exactly enlightened, told me that he was sorry, but he couldn't keep both of us. "You'll marry again," he said, his face kind, "and your husband will support you. But [my ex] has to support himself." 

I was speechless for a moment (something that will surprise anyone who knows me well). And then I resigned. It was the early 1980s, and I didn't know what sexual harassment was. I also knew I was broke from the divorce and had no power. 

In the end, I didn't just leave the Forest Service, I left science, too. I went back to graduate school, turned to writing as a way to heal the world, and fell in love. I married, raised a step-daughter, moved around the country with her daddy's career. Wrote 12 published books, hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles. Wrote and narrated a popular nature commentary on public radio in the Southwest. Won awards. Settled in southern Colorado with my love and weathered his journey through brain cancer and my mother's death the same year. 

With Molly and Richard Cabe, the focus of my life for many years, in Boulder, Colorado in about 1988 when I was writing my first book, Pieces of Light

What the #metoo hashtag showed me is not just that I'm not alone. I see now that those experiences so long ago shaped me in ways I didn't realize. Only now as a widow, "Woman Alone," as I prefer to put it, do I recognize that I used my marriage as my shield against the world. Yes, I wrote; yes, I spoke about issues that concerned me; yes, I reached readers and listeners, changed hearts and minds. 

I also hid when I chose, taking shelter behind the larger, more gregarious figure of my husband, Richard, who was a muscled 6-foot-tall and 180 pounds. We went everywhere hand in hand, so it was easy to slip into the background of his larger personality. 

It's not that I can't take care of myself alone. I may not be tall or large, but I have muscles and I am proud of them. In the course of finishing, building, and restoring three houses since he died, I have learned to use tools and design knowledge, to work with construction guys and trades-folk of all sorts. I run 3.5 miles twice a week. I work alone digging weeds in Yellowstone, my ears cocked for grizzly bears or simply amorous elk. 

Yet somehow I internalized the lesson of that long-ago sexual harassment: I was only hired to fill a quota. Because I was a "girl." That my work has no worth. I have struggled to earn a living from my writing and speaking since Richard died. 

Because, I see now, I don't speak up for myself. I take what I'm offered, which is all-too-often close to nothing. I don't believe I am worth more. 

So yes. Me too. And it is still affecting me. I can see the ways it is holding me back more clearly now. I can work on that. 

It seems to me that's what we need to do to carry #metoo onward. It's good to speak up--if we can. It's good to empathize. It's good to see that we're not alone. 

Now each us needs to find a way to take that onward. Work with an organization that helps survivors, that empowers women (and men and others who define their gender differently). Work on your own healing. Speak up and out, and help those who aren't empowered or able to speak. 

Because #metoo is really about all of us. Empowering and healing each other, and this troubled world. 


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Loving this World in Difficult Times

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I sometimes feel guilty because I don't comment more on politics and current affairs. Politics and current affairs are not, I remind myself, my beat, my area of expertise. The truth is, I shy away from that kind of commentary because it seems to me that the tone and tenor of public discourse leave no space for my voice.

It is all so shrill and angry and fear-mongering, all extremes and labels and I-hate-you-because-you-disagree-with-me. All sides, no middle. No time or place for thoughtfulness, for pondering and reflecting and trying to see, much less respect, other points of view. 

Thoughtfulness and respecting other points of view are critically important values for me. I am an INFJ personality type in the Myers-Briggs spectrum of understanding human personalities. The "I" is for introverted and intuitive (yes, I like people; I just need a lot of time alone to process and reflect). "F" stands is for feeling in the empathetic sense because I am sensitive to the non-verbal signals we humans give off with such abundance, and "J" because I value concrete data and the ability to think over the patterns it creates to explain the world.

(If you're curious about where you land in the personality spectrum, check out the test at 16 Personalities. It's thorough without taking too much time, and surprisingly and sometimes a bit uncomfortably informative.)

Put more succinctly, sound bites and labels and divisions are not my thing; fairness and consideration and justice are. Love is.

Look up photos of me and I'm the one smiling with my arm around someone else, or on hands and knees admiring some detail of leaf or flower or rock. I'm the one in love with this world and life, hard as that may be. 

That's me expressing two kinds of love, love for the Chihuahuan Desert  in southern New Mexico, and big "L" love for the man who has his arm around me, the late Richard Cabe. (Photo by Susan Kask. Thanks, Sue!)

My mission is loving and restoring the world, not tearing it to bits by reducing its human and wild communities to warring factions. 

I believe that our species' greatest attribute is not our big brains--those are wonderful, but can also get us in serious trouble. Nor our intellect, strength, or even our creativity. What we humans do best, I think, is love. As I wrote in one of my books:

What we do best comes not from our heads but our hearts, from an ineffable impulse that resists logic and definitions and calculation: love. Love is what connects us to the rest of the living world, the divine urging from within that guides our best steps in the dance of life.

--From The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes

Loving Molly Cabe at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco

I've been pondering lately how to best live that love in these times. Not so much in my writing, because my love for this troubled world threads through everything I write, from the haiku and photo I post each morning on social media to the columns I write for Houzz and Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine, to my work re-imagining Bless the Birds, my memoir-in-progress. And of course my podcasts on end-of-life choices for The Conversation Project, a national effort begun by writer Ellen Goodman to encourage dialog on how we want our lives to go at the end. 

In the being. How can I, how can we keep that love flowing, and encourage it in others when the world seems to value love so little, when fear and anger seem to have so much power? 

To express love is a conscious choice that comes from within. Which means that we have to have love to express. We have to nurture our own supply by taking time every day to restore both heart and spirit. 

Here are some suggestions adapted from a list I posted on social media in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting:

* TAKE A BREAK from the news--watching violence over and over triggers more stress and grief, exhausting our ability to love. 
* BREATHE: Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly and completely. Repeat a few times. 
* GO OUTSIDE. Find a quiet space, as natural as possible. Nature nurtures our empathy and ability to love.
* SIT. Let your mind empty. Listen for the wind, bird sounds, the flutter of leaves. Look for the beauty of flowers or form. Feel the sun on your skin. Let the pulse of life soothe your pulse, refill your capacity for feeling beauty, awe, and gratitude.
* CRY, SCREAM, RANT if necessary. Then find quiet again. 
* CONSCIOUSLY SPREAD LOVE and light, not fear and anger: Smile at strangers; be kind in a difficult situation; offer help to someone who is struggling; act with generosity and compassion. 

How can we practice love in a world as troubled and frightening as ours seems right now? By remembering that love is not about being perfect, either us or the world. It is about actively looking for and nurturing beauty, diversity, kindness, courage, compassion, empathy, creativity--the basic goodness of life, all lives, in the community of this planet. It is about seeking and nurturing the heart in every living being, in every moment. 

Remembering that love is always stronger than hatred. 

And deliberately adding our mite of love to the world. Every day. 

Thank you. 

It's not perfect by any means, but I love this community, this place, this life.

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